Research on Youth Participation: Understanding perspectives of all stakeholders

Postdoc Irene Fierloos and the Ambition Project within Healthy Start

At the beginning of March, Irene Fierloos started as a Postdoc researcher within Healthy Start. During this two-year project, she will focus on youth participation in municipal policy. Together with Arwin van Buuren and Lysanne te Brinke, among others, she will investigate how young people want to make their voices heard in municipal policy, how a diverse group of young people can be reached and what makes young people really feel heard.

Within the ambition project ‘Youth Participation and Involvement‘, they hope to search for the core of the issue through design-oriented research and to bridge the gap between research and practice. Irene has recently completed her PhD at the Erasmus MC in the Department of Public Health. She investigated how perceived social support and loneliness are related to health and well-being in different phases of life.

What makes Healthy Start the place to conduct this research?
“Within Healthy Start I would like to get started with design-oriented research because I think the translation into practice is very important. Before I started my PhD, I worked on a project for the municipality of Utrecht where we researched through design thinking how loneliness among seniors in the Utrecht city center could be reduced. Through the conversations with residents, we found out that for them it was much more about a lack of contact between younger and older generations. In co-creation, local residents and social workers came up with the concept of a story hunt, based on the idea that stories connect. Residents have written their own stories and hidden them in their street. By searching for and reading each other’s stories, residents connected with each other. It was a nice experiment and we subsequently translated this into a number of policy recommendations. Learning by doing really appealed to me. I found that method really inspiring, so that was also one of the reasons for me to apply for this position, where we work on this issue together with young people, youth workers and policy makers through reframing and design thinking.”

Involving young people themselves in the Youth Participation ambition project
“I think it is very important that young people can really make their voices heard. This can have a positive influence on the well-being of young people and can ensure that policies better meet the needs of young people. It is very important that the input of young people is really used. That is why we would also like to gain insight into the policy side. In the ambition project we want to prevent that we now reach young people and they participate, but still do not feel heard. That is really a theme that we want to do something with. We spend the first year understanding the perspectives, both of young people, youth workers and policy officers at the municipality, to see what participation for young people means how they would like to be active and what the possibilities are within the municipality. We will look for the underlying themes. In the second year, we invite young people, youth workers and policymakers to get started with these insights themselves. Together they choose a focus and develop and test an approach to improve youth participation.”

Room for learning and innovation at Healthy Start
“I think it is very valuable that Healthy Start tries to make the connection in every project between science and practice and that we are also learning together each other. We can exchange a lot of experiences to take new steps and better learn how to do it right. That collaboration is really a very clear added value for me.”

Healthy Start researcher and Postdoc Irene Fierloos